Greenpeace and the Sierra Club launched new campaign yesterday called “Greenwash Action.” As the name implies, the campaign is directed at a practice called “greenwashing,” where a person or company tries to appear more environmentally-friendly than they actually are.
The campaign’s primary goal is to maintain the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) monopoly on green building rating systems by accusing other green building standards of greenwashing and defending its own Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards
But the dirty little secret is that LEED itself is greenwashing. LEED standards are environmental in name only. In practice, LEED buildings are no more energy efficient than conventional buildings, as comparison after comparison has shown. For example, a recent study reveals that LEED buildings in Washington D.C. are less energy efficient than conventional buildings, not to mention the fact that they cost thousands of dollars more. LEED standards only complicate true environmental progress—in fact, some activists have accused LEED itself of greenwashing. Greenwash Action thus defends the very thing it aims to expose.
Greenwash Action is being run through the Earth Island Institute, whose signature work – the certification of so-called “dolphin safe” tuna – could also be considered greenwashing. No verification mechanisms ensuring that no dolphins were not hurt exist and the whole process runs on the honor system. Without verification, dolphin safe labelling is meaningless and simply greenwashes robust and truthful environmental labels and campaigns.
Such hypocrisy elicits little faith that Greenwash Action will succeed in its goal of clarifying environmental issues. Like LEED, it will only muddy the debate further. But perhaps that’s the project’s goal. The more complicated the issue of environmental standards become, the more power it attains as the authority on the matter.